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Joey Logano ready to rev up playoff push at friendly MIS

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Brooklyn — Joey Logano is in trouble, but he might have come to the right place to make it better.

By NASCAR scoring rules, Logano is at significant risk of missing the playoffs with the checkered flag at the FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. Sunday, Fox) marking the halfway point of the season.

On the bubble in points, in 16th place, if another first-time winner this season lying outside of the top 15 in the points standings wins at Michigan International Speedway, Logano would be shunted farther away from the championship, with Team Penske.

“It’s on my mind,” Logano said. “I would be lying if I said it wasn’t.”

In the top circuit of NASCAR a lot of folks want to know what has happened to the pace in Logano’s No. 22 car, for Team Penske.

During two practice sessions Saturday, Logano said the crew checked a variety of adjustments, searching for more speed to put in the car and mindful the variable weather this weekend.

It just might work at MIS.

Logano, the 2016 winner of the FireKeepers 400 and the runner-up to defending champion Jimmie Johnson in the 2016 NASCAR Cup season, has had some good luck at the track in the Irish Hills over the years.

“Anytime you come to one of your best race tracks, like here in Michigan, especially the way our last month-and-a-half has been, it is a confidence building for sure, he said. "We have been lacking a little speed, but this seems like the best race track for us to turn this around.”

It has been a jagged 2017 season for the 27-year-old from Middletown, Connecticut, who is the youngest winner all-time in the Xfinity Series, 21 days after his 18th birthday in 2008, and the youngest ever to win a cup series race, 35 days after his 19th birthday in 2009.

Larson, Truex will start 1-2 in FireKeepers 400

At Las Vegas, in the Cobalt 400, he crashed with Kyle Busch, with both cars battling for top-five position on the last lap. After he finished fourth and Busch 22nd, Logano emerged with a bloody forehead in a confrontation with Busch, in which both crews got involved.

At Phoenix, he won the pole. But a melted bead in a tire caused a blowout and he wrecked in turn one ended his race while he ran in contention.
Logano worked his way meticulously from towards the back of the field to win in Richmond after he started 37th due to a transmission change. But an issue with his rear suspension led to the NASCAR sanction of an “encumbered” victory, meaning it does not give him an automatic spot in the playoffs.

He overcame a pit-speeding penalty and a cut tire at Richmond and started a run towards the front, when a brake issue caused him to crash into Danica Patrick and a fiery accident in which Aric Almirola fractured his spine and had to be airlifted.

The crash clearly rattled Logano, in the moment and afterward, at the track.

How is he reacting to all the frustration?

“It’s not fun,” Logano said. “You have to keep life in perspective a lot of times with what you are doing out there.

“One of the funniest comments, maybe not the truth but somebody said, `We aren’t curing cancer out there. We are just trying to make circles really fast!’ ”
Logano is hoping for one of those races that jump-start a season, a lot of the way through.

What he knows is that he is working for Roger Penske, and after several years of contending on almost every weekend for years, along with his teammate Brad Keselowski, it is among the most reliably stable teams in NASCAR.

“I feel like this team is strong enough to get through it,” Logano said. “We just need to get through it, build momentum.”

He hopes the new stage racing in NASCAR this season, in which points are at stake during three portions of the race, will help him.

“The way these stages are, you can gain points pretty quick,” he said.

“We have proven we can lose them pretty quick, but a couple of good races scoring stage points and a great finish will put you right back to close to where we were. We have to be able to string three or four solid races together, like we know how to.

“We have strung 15-to-20 great races together before,” Logano said. “It is nothing this team hasn’t done before.

“We are very strong

“No one is pointing fingers,” he said. “There is none of that going on. We just have to get through this, as a team, together.”

But so flummoxed is the team by what has happened to the pace in the car that Logano describes the current efforts at solving it as a process of elimination.

Denny Hamlin edges William Byron for Xfinity win at MIS

“We have about 15 areas,” Logano said. “I think there is a certain area we think we can get better, but it takes a lot of time to fix that. It’s just not a spring or a wedge.

“Believe me, we have changed every spring we can change in these things. Over time, we should be able to get back where we want to and already we are moving that way.

“We are balancing our cars better and trying to get to where we can get into the corner better,” he said. “That seems to be our biggest lack right now, the entry of the corners.

“It seems we’ve made a decent step this week. It seems like we are a step in the right direction.

“We will keep working.”

FireKeepers Casino 400

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn


Defending champion: Joey Logano